Adria Cooper clutched her brown paper and string wrapped package close to her bosom with one hand while the other held her skirt from touching … anything else in the building. The stairs, the hallway, the room in which she currently stood were all covered with a thin layer of sticky black … well, something that was both sticky and black and smelled most remarkably ill. Even the narrow hall carpet clung to her shoes as she walked and left a dark stain on her tan half-boots. She tried not to think about the loud sucking noises the carpet emitted as she walked.
Her companion and guide in this smelly, dirty wilderness - a small, dirty young man of indeterminate age between 15 and thirty, dressed in rough brown trews, with shirt sleeves rolled up to below his elbows and held tight to his thin upper arms by bands of black ribbons - grinned at her as he beckoned her onwards. Adria’s heart pounded and she wiggled her fingers in her gloves hoping that her nervousness was not as visible as she feared.
The boy, youth, whatever, flung open a half glass, half weathered wood door and shouted: “Visitor for ‘ee,” then legged it back down the corridor without waiting for a reply.
Adria hesitated in the doorway, uncertain as to whether she should enter, or follow the young man’s example.
“In or out,” shouted a voice. “Ain’t got all day.”
“In,” decided Adria and stepped over the lintel.
No sooner she entered the chamber than the voice who had called her in shouted, “Out! Out! Out!”
“I beg your pardon,” began Adria.
“Yes, I just bet you do.”
A heavy-set man heaved himself up from a broad wooden chair and tottered around the widest desk Adria had seen in her life. Every inch of the broad surface was covered in paper. Most of the stacks bore tightly printed text. A few of the remaining pages had delicately colored etchings. Mostly detailed lithographs of sailing ships, a few of a man with heavy mutton-chop sideburns and beard and the remainder - barely dressed hotten-tots. All of it was arranged in a pattern that made no sense to Adria, but then it didn’t need to. That was all she was given time to determine since her host, the afore mentioned man, was shouting.
“I told you, gel, get out!” roared the man who was as wide as he was tall, dressed in much the same degree of dishabille as the youth who’d brought her here.
A faint chuckle came from the hallway. Adria glanced out. Her escort was back, kneeling in the hall, with both dirty hands covering his mouth. The chuckle came again, from him. No doubt he had brought her here just for the purpose of his own entertainment.
“Sir,” said Adria, turning back to the round man. “You do not understand…”
“What” What don’t I understand? Let me guess. You have written a book.” At Adria’s nod he continued. “Oh, yes, you do. I get a constant parade of gels like you with their books. They’re all the same. You got a heroine, aint ya. Poor but honest. Beautiful, but shy, retiring and the epitome of all virtues.”
“I wouldn’t say all,” said Adria and was ignored.
“She’s good but oh, her life is sad and a burden. So poor. So hopeful that nawth bad’ll ‘appen.”
Adria blushed and gave a sharp nod.
“An’ despite her bauty and virtue an’ all, things just do keep happening to her. Just happening. If’n it aint a brute of a man come to carry her away or her father lost in a storm at sea leavin’ her all alone at the ‘ands of an evil uncle, well then it’s a letter hintin’ at a inheritance if’n only that she come to some castle on the moors.” Adria glanced down at the bundle in her arms and back up at the man. “Why is it always the moors, I ask you? Do you know what a moor is? Have you ever seen a moor?”
“The area of swampy land or Othello?” replied Adria.
“Ooooh, an educated lady we ‘ave here taday,” sneered the man. “Well, I don’t want your book.”
“You haven’t read it yet.”
“I told you, I already know it and I don’t want it.” The man went to the door and shouted at the apprentice. “And you, lad, don’t bring no more lady authors up here. You hear me? Or I’ll send you back to your pa!”
Adria stood, frozen, in the center of the room and cringed when the man turned his blazing gaze back on her.
“Well? Why are you still here?” he demanded.
“Might I inquire,” said Adria, summoning courage she didn’t know she’d possessed. “What sort of books do you publish? What do you want your authors to write about since you have an exception to such as mine.”
“I want books with blood and bone in them.” The man formed his hands into fists. “I want meat. I want life!”
“I am afraid that short of describing a trip to the abattoir…”
“Not that sorta meat! Not, oh lord above, why are you tormenting me?” The man seized Adria by her arm and tugged her toward the door. “You want to know what I want? I want you to leave here and become a member of the demimonde, then in a dozen years write down all the men you’ve met, all the things you’ve done, the places you’ve visited and the sins you’ve committed and I’ll publish that.”
“Oh, good heavens, you cannot be serious. I couldn't do that!”
“That is why you will never be published,” snarled the publisher and gave her a push. “There’s no blood and bone in your book. Get out and don’t come back.”